Snowpiercer or Snowpreacher – When Politics and Storytelling Collide by: Blaine Grimes

Posted: July 10, 2014 by jperritt in Uncategorized

[This post is spoiler-free. Read without fear.]

Snowpiercer-Movie-Poster-Chris-EvansMany reviewers have praised Snowpiercer precisely because it is a blend of dystopian anti-capitalism political piece and gritty action-thriller; however, if said mixture is composed of two parts pickle juice and one part Kool-Aid, is it really all that tasty? Like the speeding train on which the story unfolds, the movie turns around and around in narrative circles. Here is the rhythm: an action scene is followed by a section of dialogue, which, by the way, is not used to develop characters but to highlight the ostensibly subtle political subtext. In other words, Snowpiercer cannot decide what it wants to be—a piercing, unidealized action film, or a preachy socio-political commentary. There is a tension in this film between sections of Snowpiercer and Snowpreacher; this tension is never resolved, and the film is muddled as a result. The problem with Snowpiercer stems not from its predictability but its repetitiveness—its ceaseless alternation between violence and politics.

As Flannery O’Connor said, a reasonable use of the unreasonable can be a good thing. In this regard, Flannery was a master at practicing what she preached. Snowpiercer, however, is a very violent film (most of the combat is hand-to-hand and ruthlessly brutal) that is not the least bit reasonable in its approach to cinematic butchery. The audience is repeatedly confronted with wave after wave of bloodshed——a violence that neither propels the narrative forward nor knows the power of restraint—as Curtis (Chris Evans) leads his band of proletariat revolutionaries to the front of the train. Snowpiercer continues to supply unnecessary action scenes when none are needed—as if the audience is too daft to understand that the revolution is a bloody affair. In short, the violence is over-the-top, redundant, and little more than a poorly executed attempt to counterbalance the film’s preachiness.

The politics of Snowpiercer are far from subtle; they are very much on-the-nose, in fact. Critics who claim otherwise are, perhaps, blinded by their own political predilections. Nevertheless, the real trouble with Snowpiercer is that it pushes its political agenda at the expense of story. Instead of devoting screen time to character development, Joon-ho Bong (the writer/director) created clunky, unwieldy sections of dialogue in which the characters over-explain the train’s class system and retell the story of how the planet was accidentally frozen in an attempt to combat global warming. Such scenes are replayed in slightly different contexts on multiple occasions—just like the scenes of violence.

The result of the mishmash of gritty Sci-fi action and political critique that is Snowpiercer is a story in which it is very difficult to take interest—an unfortunate state of affairs considering that the movie has some real strengths and a considerable amount of potential. The cinematography is superb; the film’s grim realism is masterfully reinforced by dark visuals. Lower-class characters look so grungy that it is as if the movie was shot using grainy film stock. In this way, it is a strangely (and ironically) beautiful film. In addition, the acting is a real treat. Chris Evans shows that he has some diversity in his acting toolkit, while Tilda Swinton infuses her villainous character with quirky life. Snowpiercer has all the makings of a fine movie, but a captivating story was sacrificed for the sake of an allegedly visionary agenda. Because of this, it fails.

The import of Snowpiercer is that the primary duty of a storyteller—a class to which filmmakers belong—is to tell a captivating, rich, and tightly-wound story[1]. Snowpiercer could have kept its political agenda and still created a good film, if only Joon-ho Bong had put as much care in his narrative and characters as he did his politics. Christians (and Christian filmmakers) should learn from these faults. Unfortunately the major problem with Snowpiercer is the same issue plaguing the Christian film industry: sacrificing good storytelling for the sake of preaching.


[1] Good storytelling and cultural criticism are not mutually exclusive. However, the latter should serve the former.

  1. […] Nolan fan, so this made my list mainly out of curiosity. Although it looks fairly preachy (a characteristic I find particularly irksome), I’ll still give it a […]

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